Interior offensive line creating major limitations for the Ice Cold Seattle Seahawks offense

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RENTON, Wash. — On the cusp of their first season without Russell Wilson at center in a decade and without a clear long-term successor on the roster, the Seahawks weren’t expected to be a heavyweight in 2022.

But in the first two games, despite finding a way to knock out a 17-16 win over Denver in the season opener, Seattle was somehow more inept on offense than expected. After being shut out in a 20-point loss to San Francisco on Sunday, the unit finds itself in the middle of six straight scoreless quarters and ranks near the bottom in every notable category two weeks into a new campaign. , including the lowest out of 32 teams. in total rushing yards.

From the outside, the Seahawks’ decision to move forward with Geno Smith as Wilson’s replacement at quarterback creates an easy target for criticism. The veteran signalman isn’t without fault leading a sinking ship as he has struggled to get the ball downfield with just three completions from over 20 yards so far, failing to take advantage elite receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside. .

Unsurprisingly, after seven years as a backup with three teams, Smith hasn’t proven himself to be a quarterback capable of elevating teammates’ play or covering gaps around him.

That said, Smith played relatively well given the circumstances and he doesn’t even come close to the main reason Seattle struggled to put points on the board. In eight quarters of play, he completed 81% of his pass attempts, and while that percentage was inflated to some extent by the emphasis – even reliance – on short passing play, this conservative approach was necessitated by questions throughout the offensive. line.

As coach Pete Carroll escaped on Monday, he believes the Seahawks held off Smith and the rest of the offense in search of rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas and after watching them perform well against a solid rush the 49ers pass, it’s time to open things up a bit more.

“I don’t want to go into the real details, but one of the concerns was protection, so we wanted to come in and see if we can protect ourselves against this pass rush, which we think is as good as we will face. “, explained Carroll. “In that regard, we didn’t want to open it up and expose the tackles more than we had to, so those kind of things fit together. They’re holding up, they’ve done a good job in general, Geno really masters that what’s going on and he’s really precise in his decision-making. I think it’s just about enjoying what’s going on more freely rather than worrying about our ability to hold on.

Even with a pair of rookies starting at tackle points, Smith was accurate and generally did a quality job navigating the pocket under frequent duress, earning him the sixth-best rating for Pro quarterbacks. Football Focus (73.9) through the first two games.

While it’s straightforward to single out Smith as the main culprit for Seattle’s woes, in reality, the quarterback isn’t even close to the biggest problem hampering the offense right now. Instead, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s hands were tied by the combination of injuries and poor interior offensive line play.

Prior to the season, the Seahawks considered guarding one of their offensive strengths with a pair of returning starters in Gabe Jackson and returning Damien Lewis and fourth-year tackle Phil Haynes re-signing as reserve. starting caliber behind them. The coaching staff was also excited about the addition of center Austin Blythe, who previously played for Waldron in Los Angeles and knew the scheme inside out.

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So far, however, this group hasn’t even approached the same zip code comparing expectations to actual performance on the pitch.

One of Seattle’s highest paid players with a cap of $9 million in 2022, Jackson was a huge disappointment to open his second season with the organization. Returning to good health after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, he was a tourniquet in pass protection, allowing seven quarterback pressures on 35 setbacks against San Francisco on Sunday alone. Bowing to pressure on 20% of his team’s setbacks, he hasn’t even played at substitute level so far and his run blocking hasn’t been much more effective.

Meanwhile, Lewis missed the season opener with a sprained ankle and left Sunday’s game early with a new thigh injury, Haynes failed to replicate his stellar game of two starts to end last season as a replacement. Receiving a dismal 44.8 pass blocking rating from PFF, he allowed five pressures and a sack. Like Jackson, his run blocking didn’t measure up either in limited action and he wasn’t able to generate consistent thrust up front.

As for Blythe, her season has been a tale of two stories. For one, he was arguably Seattle’s best pass protector, allowing just two pressures and no sacks on 64 pass blocks. In that regard, he was an upgrade over former starter Ethan Pocic. But the 298-pound center has also been a detriment in the running game, physically overwhelmed by opponents up front and often getting thrown into the backfield while earning an ugly 36.7 PFF rating.

Schematically, it’s no wonder Waldron was a bit shy in letting Smith speak and opted for a more conservative approach. With Jackson and Haynes struggling to keep the rushers in front of them and out of the pocket, the time just hasn’t been there to take many shots at Metcalf and Lockett.

To complicate matters further, the Seahawks have been even worse in football despite a host of talented running backs with Rashaad Penny and rookie Ken Walker III. Per PFF, both players averaged over four yards per run after contact, indicating they weren’t the problem behind a rushing ground attack.

Much like in pass protection, insufficient guard and center play prevented Carroll’s bread and butter from becoming a factor as expected. If a team can’t win at the line of scrimmage, good luck running the game with consistent success.

What does this mean for the Seahawks offensive line? Although it is early in the season and the coaching staff may not be quite ready to shake things up, it may be time to make some substantial changes in hopes of providing some semblance of spark for the racing game and improvements to keep Smith clean.

Until Lewis returns healthy, Haynes is likely to remain at left guard and given his youth, he could still work his way into a long-term starting job. But the Seahawks have a serious conundrum at the other guardhouse with an aging Jackson in the midst of a steep decline. While it might not be a decision they want to make given the money owed to him, they should seriously consider rolling with a younger alternative such as Jake Curhan to see where he might fit in. in future projects.

At this point, after failing to score even a field goal in the final 90 minutes of play, all options must be on the table for Carroll and Waldron as they attempt to revive a dormant offense that could sink their season quickly. fashion.

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